Vol. 2 of DigitMovies' Mario Bava soundtrack collection gathers a pair of really rare gems that have a greater impact as albums.
A case in point is La Frusta Ell Corpo / Whip and the Body (1963), which wasn't particularly well-treated when released to English language audiences. Shortened and retitled as What? (a dumb title, even when Roman Polanski tried it out in 1972), Whip's score seemed creaky, and the shortened version seemed to overuse Carlo Rustichelli's Windsor Concerto, which formed the central theme of Bava weird and wacky film about mad Christopher Lee lashing out at bella wife Dalia Lavi with a big whip.
Unlike the characters' masochistic lifestyle, Rustichelli's score is romantic to the extreme, with a few bouts of dissonance and dramatic stabs coddled between his Windsor sections. Like the classical-styled piece composed by Stelvio Cipriani for the opening garroting scene in Bava's Bay of Blood, one gets a sense the melodramatic tenor and lush ornamentation are deliberately tongue-in-cheek, as if Bava were presenting a portrait of the foul, monstrous behaviour and perverted affection that lay behind the refined and wealthy facade of the film's characters.
Rustichelli employs a modest orchestra, which he also uses for some the score's more dissonant cues. A good example is "Nella Notte e uccisione di Kurt," which is more contemporary orchestral-jazz: an alto sax carries the main theme, while woodwinds slowly exhale suspicious phrases, and an eerie organ vacillates in the background.
The mono recordings are more subdued in volume, but cues like "Il cadavere di Kurt e Angoscia di Nevenka" still manage to reveal Rustichelli's sly efforts at creating resonant bass effects from the percussion. The cue mostly consists of rising strings and rumbling percussion, with a few hard hits between low, sustained chords. Rustichelli's overall approach is to focus on slow, creeping atmosphere, and while the Windsor Concerto is oft-quoted, it's infrequently done so verbatim, and several cues share many stylistic traits to Sei Donne per l'assassino / Blood and Black Lace, which occupies Disc 2 of this set.
When forming the core of a suspense cue, Rustichelli plays with groups of re-ordered notes that unravel in unpredictable patterns. In Whip, Rustichelli plays off the romantic mood of his concerto (also heard in a bonus 2-part single version, and a full 8:41medley) and achieves some excellent levels of mood and shading; but in Blood, he strangely chose to abandon traditional jazz improv and rely on straight theme variations from a jazz orchestra, and Latin-styled percussion section.
Recorded and presented in bouncy stereo, the Latin flavour certainly recalls the percussion effects in Henry Mancini's Touch of Evil score, and Rustichelli's opening title music was similarly affected by changes from the film's producer. Whereas Universal-International wanted music over the credit sequence - now removed in the second Touch of Evil 'director's cut' - it was a change in music that was ordered for the English language version of Blood, placing "Inseguimento e morte di Isabella," containing the score's secondary theme, over a new title montage (using creepy backlit mannequins) instead of the original theme music set to Bava's weird use of flowers and posing cast members.
The Blood theme follows the style of the era, with solo trumpet playing the melodic line, while a low-key rhythm section moves the mordant cue at a brisk pace. Rustichelli's theme is spot-on for Bava's naughty showcase of beautiful women in pastel, chi-chi clothes getting brutalized. Shaped like music videos, each death sequence is often elongated so Bava can indulge in his fetish for following leggy victims as they walk down isolated paths, run through coloured pools of light, reach near-safety, and lose their face or heads (or both) at the killer's hands or spikes steel gauntlet. Bava's use of music, lighting, and montage certainly influenced Dario Argento, and the sexy death music used in Blood reflects Bava's own wicked sense of humour.
Most of the murder music is source or source-like, and the jazz combos are classy little gems that sometimes ridicule the characters, if not the ridiculousness of having people sitting in a theatre just so they can watch babes die badly with a groovy beat, which of course now happens in the TV room. (Fans with a broader knowledge of film music might also find Rustichelli's theme a bit familiar, as the opening bars bear a striking similarity to Alex North's Misfits theme, composed for the 1961 John Huston melodrama, also using orchestra and jazz band.)
That said, with two themes and their variations, the score is very repetitive, although a few dramatic, scaled-down versions - similar to Rustichelli's Whip score - provide some balance. Also include on Disc 2 are single versions of the main themes, and an alternate title cue without the trumpet part.
DigitMovies' 2-disc set is the premiere release of the complete Whip and Blood scores; singleversions had only appeared on rare 45 rpm discs that were later plopped onto respective DVD s by VCI in bonus music galleries. Those cues suffered from serious compression, and were a faint taste of what goodness lay dormant in the CAM vaults.
Both scores have some wear in spots, including a few bits of distortion and audio dropout in Blood, but they still sound remarkable for their age. Blood was cleanly miked, and one can enjoy the stereo image, and hear some subtle performance noises from the musicians. Given so little of Rustichelli's music has made it in complete form to CD, this set should rekindle an interest in a lesser-known composers who enjoyed a long and prolific career in Italy.
DigitMovies' Mario Bava anthology includes Vol.1 (La Mashera del demonio / Black Sunday + La ragazza che sapeva tropp / The Evil Eye), Vol. 2 (La Frusta Ell Corpo / Whip and the Body + Sei Donne per l'assassino / Blood and Black Lace), Vol. 3 (Ecologia del Delitto / Bay of Blood + Gli orrori del castello di norimberga / Baron Blood + Cani arrabbiati / Rabid Dogs), Vol. 4 (I Vampiri + Caltiki + Lisa e il Diavolo / Lisa and the Devil "To Mirna" theme), and Vol. 5 (Hercules in the Haunted World / Ercole al centro della terra).
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan